In 2012 MetroPark, one of the first malls in Baku, opened its doors to the customers for the first time. For six years now it has been welcoming its guests. In this interview, MetroPark Marketing Manager Anar Zeynalov speaks about the development strategy of the mall and describes its main features.

Dear Mr. Zeynalov, first let us introduce you to our readers. Could you say a few words about yourself?

I was born on May 9, 1988, in the Nakchivan Region; there I went to the elementary school; then our family moved to Baku where I finished secondary school. I entered the Department of International Relations of the Caucasus University. As a student, I worked as a volunteerat a number of youth organizations and represented Azerbaijan at about 30 international events and trainings. Having finished the baccalaureate program, I completed a master course in Latvia and for 4 more months continued studying in Belgium; at the same time, I did an educational internship course at the European Parliament and European Court of Justice. When I was in Latvia, I did my best to tell people about Azerbaijan and to let the European community know the truth about the Khojaly genocide.

And how did you get involved in marketing?

True, everything I shared with you before has little connection to my present-day work. However, even in my childhood I dreamed about this kind of work – when I was still unaware it was called ‘marketing’. My father was always in the buy and sell business so I got interested in this type of work. During my study course in Latvia, I made my first steps in marketing. Naturally, I made mistakes now and then but I also learned from them. Having completed the course, I returned to Azerbaijan and sent my CV to several companies. A number of companies invited me to be interviewed but, for different reasons, I was reluctant to accept their job offers. Then I got an invitation from MetroPark that was in the process of construction at the time. I accepted it and, together with the team, started selling sales premises.

After negotiations with a couple of stores I saw that we were on the right track leading to success. We developed our criteria: a) we accept only official stores representing brands well-known to the local public, and b) the majority of our lessees shall be foreign brands and companies. We work with only few Azerbaijani brands, like Ali & Nino chain of bookstores or VMF, the official distributor of several major watch brands. Most of our brands come from Turkey, Italy, Russia, Denmark and other countries. Already during our first year we sold out all the shopping space. So, as you can see, I have been in marketing for six years, and I am even a member of the American Marketing Association.

Could you tell us a few words about MetroPark?

MetroPark was the second mall launched in Baku after Park Boulevard. When we opened we saw the demand was great and it is still high today in spite of the fact that the number of shopping centers in Baku is steadily growing. Today about 20 brands would like to rent from us but all the space is occupied so far.

From the very beginning we follow a certain marketing policy. We study the world experience and adapt it to Azerbaijan taking into account local environment. Prior to opening the mall, we had studied such data as the number of schools in the Nariman Region, the population size, the housing costs, the approximate income of the local inhabitants. After thorough analysis of the data, we got anidea of what the local customers might need and started seeking for the brands that might interest the locals. We would be happy to cover the whole of the market but our target audience comprises the people inhabiting the Nariman Region – those who live close to our shopping center, in particular medium-income families. We know it is not worthwhile to open expensive boutiques as they have their own customer group. We have 14 stores selling children’s products, there is a room for feeding babies, a game room for young kids where parents can leave their children and go shopping.

We also target people who wear big-size clothes: due to our national cuisine there are quite a lot. To some extent, we cater for the interests of youth but our main customer group consists of family people. They can have a meal at the mall, relax, visit the bank department, buy food at the supermarket, work out at our gym. All the facilities are available all year round from 10 a.m. till 11 p.m., except the first of January when MetroPark opens at noon. We also have a movie theater working till late at night.

You mentioned that MetroPark became the second major shopping center in Baku. But the number of malls in the city has significantly increased since. What else, besides the features you mentioned, makes MetroPark different from other Baku malls?

At the time when we had just opened our mall we had the largest movie theater in the city. Besides, everything I have mentioned earlier was totally new for Baku. I do not think anybody arranges as many events and activities as we do: the number of our projects exceeds 300. We do a lot of projects for children; every week we give them various gifts and balloons. We have conducted a series of lotteries where six cars and many other prizes were raffled off. Yes, other malls occasionally organize similar activities but with us it has become a tradition. For example, every year, the period between December 20 and January 10 is the time of the New-Year season at the mall.

We always decorate our shopping center for holidays. One could call it a trifle, but you know: seasonal decoration is costly. Let me be frank: the only income source for the mall is the rent paid by the stores. So it does not really matter whether we organize any events or not: the stores would not stop working if we do not. But we allocate big sums for decoration, for setting up festivals and lotteries. Each lottery is strictly controlled, both by ourselves and by the state (by the Chamber for the Control over Financial Markets). By the way, people sometimes do not believe they won. We call them during a live TV broadcast of the lottery to inform them about their prize. They laugh and tell us to mind our business and stop making fun of people. I must add that neither our workers nor their relatives can participate in these projects –this limitation provides for the transparency of lotteries.

A few more words about the activities we arrange. MetroPark was the first to organize an event devoted to Mother’s Day. We visited the mother of National Hero Mubariz Ibragimov in Bilyasuvar and gave her presents. We were also the first to give gifts to the inhabitants of the liberated village Jojug Marjanly.

What else makes us different? We are the only mall with a big stage which has all the required technical features and the equipment necessary for concerts and fashion shows. In other words, we do our best to be different by means of the events we organize. And another important thing: none of the events we have held up to date has been fee-based and they will continue to be free: any person can come and participate.

We have conducted over 50 charity events. True, we did not cover them as widely because we did not do it for the sake of promotion. One of the days during each of our projects is dedicated to orphanage children. Their caregivers are already familiar with us and call us in advance asking to reserve space to exhibit children’s craftwork and we provide everything they need.

Another example: we organized an event called “Buy and Earn”. Any customer who spends at least 50 manats in the mall (though the sum can vary in different years) is entitled to a prize. There is a “wheel of fortune”that a customer can spinand win one of 24 prizes – from teapots to television sets.

We had a project called “The Lucky Table”: we used to pay the meal bill of a table chosen at random in advance. Once we set a “Wish Tree” that “helped” us to give our customers the goods they wished to have.

We keep up friendly relations with all our stores and clients and do our best to solve their problems. I listen to their complaints, if any, and take all the necessary steps to fix the problems, apologize in case it was our fault: anybody can make a mistake.

Our top priorities are cleanliness and safety. Not all public places in Baku canimpress their customers with high standards of cleanliness. But you will not find any signs of untidiness in our mall. Now let me say a few words about safety. Our shopping center is visited both by Azerbaijani citizens and by numerous foreign tourists and it is our duty to provide for their safety. Cars entering our parking space are inspected. Some of the drivers are displeased with the procedure: “We are not terrorists, are we?” But they have to understand that the inspection is conducted for their own security. I insist that even my car be checked.

Our cleaning service has a staff of 50, and as many workers are employed in our security service. Besides, there is a generator that goes on within 5 seconds in case of a power failure and provides power supply both for the stores and elevators/escalators.

To summarize, we are customer-oriented. We can like or dislike the goods sold in the stores of our mall but the main thing is that our customers like them. We also maintain effective competition among our restaurants to give the visitors a chance to taste meals of various cuisines.

What security measures do you take on the days when the customer traffic is higher than usual?

On holidays and on the days with increased customer flow, we employ additional security staff. We usually inform the local police station of any big concert we plan to host and the police always help us. As for the parking lot, it is quite spacious and the prices are reasonable. On some days we even let the cars in free – to attract customers.

The new school year will start soon. Are you planning any “back-to-school” events?

We always arrange such activities. Every year, several weeks before the beginning of the school year, parents start buying school supplies for their kids. During this period, we give various gifts to the children who are getting ready for school. They can be small gifts but children enjoy them all the same. It is also expedient from the business point of view: new customers come and our sales rise; each of our events means additional profit for our stores. Among others, there are some activities devoted to the dates which are not as widely celebrated in this country (Halloween, for example); we also hold shopping festivals.

Besides, we organize meetings and autograph sessions with famous authors, athletes, cultural figures; we invite parents and their children to psychology workshops. Every year we offer free tests for HIV infection.

On the Army Day or on the Republic Day, we invite a military band to play and arrange promotion events. We give gifts and make discounts on the days when people celebrate professional holidays, like Teacher’s Day, Doctor’s Day and others: we greet representatives of various professions on their professional holidays.

One can say that each individual activity of this kind is nothing much but, as a system, such events make our visitors really happy.

Does your team plan any new projects?

We placed boxes for our customers to leave notes with their wishes or complaints. This kind of feedback enables us to take into account their requests or solve their problems. They usually ask us to include this or that store or brand in the list of our lessees. We keep working on it. As for the new projects, we do not plan any so far.

Are you planning to expand the shopping center?

When we were building MetroPark we did not plan to occupy the lower floors where the bank and the supermarket are located today; the original plan was to place the parking lot there. The food court was also absent from the original design. But after the marketing group was created, we decided to open restaurants on the upper floor, to separate the parking place from the main building, and to let the bank and the supermarket occupy the lower floors. All these ideas appeared in the course of our work. Currently, we do not have any expansion plans.

What advertising means do you prefer? How do you see the role of social networks in the marketing strategy of the mall?

We pay serious attention to social networks, like Facebook or Instagram; they play a major part in the modern marketing system. Promotion on TV and radio gradually gives way to digital marketing and we have to take it into account. Today the smartphone is gaining the front positions though we still use television. At the same time, we have to remember about our target audience. Sometimes, representatives of a TV channel ask us to prepare a video story for the program they consider top-rated. Yes, it the program might have a high rating but it is not obvious that our clients watch it: it can be top-rated in the regions but not in Baku.

In our marketing strategy, we are guided by the global trends but adapt them to the specific properties of our national market. I would like our schools and universities to pay more attention to economics-related subjects. You see, as a marketing professional, I did not get an academic education and was a self-learner, so I really want future generations to thoroughly study economics in universities and become well-trained professionals.

In conclusion: what would you like to tell our readers?

What can I say? Please come to MetroPark (laughing)! We invite you to come daily, from10 in the morning, and we are ready to listen to any wishes or complaints you might have. If you have something to tell us, you are welcome to come to our office on the 7th floor and share. We will do our best to help you.